The pristine white bathroom always gleamed. White tiles, white counter tops, white bathmats and towels, the only splashes of color that marred the still space came from the two little boys playing with their bright plastic tub toys in the large white tub.
We had a daily ritual. I would arrive at 5 to relieve the daytime sitter, sit them down to go over their homework, and then, after a bit of horsing around I would herd the two of them into their parents’ bathroom for their evening bath. They were little, 6 and 3, sweet and innocent, and much too young to be self aware in front of their favorite babysitter. I had known both boys since infancy, spending countless afternoons with them while their parents worked late. I loved them like I would have loved little brothers and they, in turn, trusted me like they would have trusted a sister.
One afternoon like any other I knelt by the side of the tub, washing one child after the other, squeezing the little rubber shark to splash them with water. Giving them a bath had long since lost any nerve-wracking aspect. The caution that had governed me the first few months of the evening routine had long since given way to playful attention. I washed them, I played, but I no longer cringed when they slipped a little in the tub. I no longer watched them like hawks to make sure that they didn’t drown in the couple of inches of water that I allowed.
On that one day though, that one day like every other, I’m the one who slipped up. I had successfully washed the younger brother. He sat, gleaming and dripping, at one end of the massive tub, waiting to be taken out and dried off, patient while I turned my attention to his older brother.
The bigger boy grinned up at me, brown eyes bright under his mop of curly hair, smile tugging at his mouth, oversized brand new “grown-up” incisors peeking out over his bottom lip, then he ducked out of my way when I reached over to wash him. I parried and he ducked again, and then, getting into the spirit of the game, I lunged for him, ticklers at the ready.
Just as the tips of my fingers were about to touch his side, a massive THUNK dropped my stomach into my toes. The blood curdling scream that followed did little to reassure me.
The younger brother whimpered as the older brother looked up at me, fear mingling with the tears that were pooling in his eyes. His mouth opened wide to let loose another cry and the jagged front tooth told me what my ears had failed to translate.
While leaning forward to avoid being tickled he had smashed his face against the side of the tub and broken his brand new permanent tooth cleanly in half.
You would think that the mortification would end there, with the little boy, maimed at my hand, waiting for me to comfort him and make it all better. But no, I still had to find the piece of tooth, take both children out of the tub, comfort the one whose smile I had destroyed, dry them, dress them, and finally find the telephone so I could call their mother to tell her what I had done.
Which still wouldn’t have been so bad if while I was doing all this, fighting back tears and swallowing bile, the same little boy hadn’t felt the need to comfort me with pats on the shoulder and sweet words of encouragement as he watched me dial her number.
Clearly the pain of breaking a tooth was nothing compared to the horror of betraying their mother’s trust. The dentist magicians managed to reattach the broken part of his tooth the next morning, but I’ve never forgotten the sound of his face hitting the side of the tub or the knowledge that I had not only failed to protect the child who had been placed in my care, but I had been the one to hurt him.
(I have written about this family once before. Oddly enough it was to relate another mortifying story. Despite what you may imagine I did not stop watching those two boys until I moved away. I still miss them, though. Their Facebook profiles are proof that both have grown up into strapping young men and that neither bears any scars from the time they spent with me.)
This post was written in response to the first ever Write-of-Passage challenge. Write-of-Passage is a brand new Ning group created for and by writers who hope to improve their writing through constructive critiquing. Other posts on the topic of Most Embarrassing Stories are linked to below.